A Thai speaker who is new to English arrives in May into year 5, leaving her only about a year before she is faced with taking her SATs. Little time remains to develop English language proficiency and learn the academic content, some of which her school in Thailand had not covered. How can schools support such learners?
For learners who use English as an additional language (EAL), the major factor influencing their educational achievement and attainment is their proficiency in English (PiE).
Research shows that it takes more than six years on average for multilingual learners to progress from being new to English to becoming a fluent user of the English language (Strand & Lindorff, 2020) and that arrival within the English state school system systematically predicts attainment levels for children with EAL, with a severe attainment penalty for children arriving closest to the time of the exams (Hutchinson, 2018).
For the purposes of this article, “late arrivals” are defined as those learners using EAL who enter the school system in England for the first time in key stage 2.
A late arrival may have had no gaps in their education, but their prior schooling may have been different to the one provided in England – for example, certain aspects of the English curriculum might not have been covered in their previous school.
Other children may have had their education disrupted or they may not have been able to attend school at all. Some children might have gone through traumatic experiences, both in their country of origin (e.g. leaving their family behind) and on arrival in England (having to navigate an asylum system which can be unwelcoming or hostile or housing issues).
Upon arrival, some learners may be new to English, others may be developing competence in English, and some will be fluent in English. Given their late arrival, these pupils have limited time to develop fluency in English and academic language to access the curriculum and demonstrate learning, which means that there is an urgent need to provide intensive support.
These challenges may adversely impact on the ability of late arrivals’ to perform well in their SATs and thus have a knock-on effect in their secondary school life; for instance, they might be placed in bottom sets in secondary schools because of their low SAT results.
Once in the English education system, some learners may experience systemic barriers which can compound their settlement experience and impact on their attainment. For example, some schools do not have the necessary EAL support on offer for these learners for whom exam papers might be impenetrable due to the language barrier. Assigned teaching assistants (if there are any available) might not be specialist EAL staff, thus unsure how to support those children.
Understandably, supporting these learners can represent a significant challenge for schools, particularly given the short time available between a late arrival joining the school and SATs. Each school is different and will have varying levels of prior experience, knowledge, systems, and resources on which to draw when embedding provision for these learners.
This article offers guidance to schools and teachers to support late arrivals as effectively as possible. Even if a learner arriving late into the school system is unable to develop fluency in English by the time they finish year 6, there is still plenty that schools can do to support those learners and improve their life opportunities.
Late arrivals who are new to English are a specific sub-group of the wider new arrivals group, which means that the same EAL teaching approaches will apply to this group of learners. That said, because of the limited time available to support these learners, it is even more important to accelerate their progress by implementing these approaches across the curriculum and to plan interventions to meet their specific support and learning needs.
When learners are new to English, it may be helpful in some cases to place them in EAL induction classes. EAL induction is part of the wider process of inducting learners using EAL and their parents/carers into the school.
Such programmes will need to include survival English language lessons such as words and phrases related to school life, as that is the learners’ immediate concern, as well as days of the week, months of the year, and numbers vocabulary. But it is equally crucial that subject-based lessons are provided, around the language of science, maths, geography, music, etc.
For primary phase-specific suggestions of materials and approaches, visit the Wokingham School Hub page’s additional materials section (see further information).
These lessons should be limited regarding the number of classes per week, not interfere with curriculum learning, and not last for longer than 12 weeks. Consider if a good time to have these lessons might be during more verbally heavy lessons such as history or English.
While the activities and materials provided in induction classes will always be linked to the curriculum, English language support specific to late arrivals can also be designed around themes related to choosing a secondary school and secondary school life, to make it more relevant to their concerns.
Interventions are different from EAL induction classes. Their aim is to offer intensive EAL support related to one aspect of the curriculum or focusing on one language skill.
For instance, an intervention programme can prepare a late arrival to understand the language of instructions in SATs or focus on speaking skills. These interventions should not take place in a SEND context, where the focus is not on EAL. It is also important to add that different groups of pupils bring with them different school funding and employing an EAL teaching assistant might be one impactful use of such funding. Consider also:
- The focus of intervention sessions is on developing English language skills. Since the focus is on language, cognitive/curricular demands of lessons should not be lowered for late arrivals – lower English language proficiency does not imply lower overall cognitive ability.
- It is important that learners are not entirely withdrawn out of other lessons for interventions. In year 6, it might be possible to withdraw them into English language interventions while other learners are in SAT preparation classes, particularly where pupils using EAL have not been entered for the SATs (see next section). There are, of course, exceptions: it would be appropriate to take learners out of a classroom if other learners are writing a test the content of which the late arrival has not covered.
- Digital technology interventions may accelerate language development and could be used for self-study, but they should not substitute integrated classroom learning.
SATs and access arrangements
Late arrivals into key stage 2 might require SATs support. If a child is not able to access the test because they are working at a level that is too low to allow them to score any marks, they should not be entered into the SAT. See sections 6.1 and 6.2 of the Standards and Testing Agency’s Assessment and reporting arrangements document (STA, 2022) for more. In such a case, schools need to submit a teacher assessment made using Pre-Key Stage Standards (STA, 2020) as evidence.
If a pupil is entered for a SAT, then different subjects will have different requirements and allowances and you might be able to provide different support.
The reading test and the spelling, punctuation and grammar test must be held in the English language and no translation is permitted. In other subjects, such as maths, a child might be eligible for “use of a reader” (an adult translating questions for the child) or “use of a scribe” (a pupil writing answers in their first language and a scribe translating their answers into English), or a child speaking their answers in their first language and a scribe writing their answer in English. For full information, including when you need to notify the STA, see its guidance Key stage 2 access arrangements (STA, 2017).
Preparing for the future
Many late arrivals using EAL and their parents/carers may not be able to understand the complex English education system because of the language barrier and the novelty of living in a new country.
Schools can support late arrivals and their families by explaining to them how the education system works and is organised and providing them with information about what opportunities are available and who to speak to. Our guidance for parents on the English education system, translated into 22 languages, might be helpful (see further information).
We can also support an effective transition by collaborating with secondary schools, providing specific translated information about EAL pupils, and passing on essential information about the learners to their future school (e.g. English language proficiency and EAL profiles). For more ideas, read my recent article for Headteacher Update on EAL and transition to secondary schools (Trzebiatowski, 2019).
Working with parents/carers
It is often the case that the parents of EAL learners wish to support their children at home but may be new to English and likely unfamiliar with the education system in England. Schools can support these parents/carers in different ways.
For multilingual families in general, The Bell Foundation’s guidance for parents, already mentioned, includes advice on how to get involved in school life and helping their child to learn.
We can also invite parents to a dedicated late arrivals parents’ evening at school to discuss issues, concerns and to answer their questions.
Because of how little time late arrivals have before SATs, some parents might ask about a possibility of deceleration, i.e. that a child be educated in a year below their chronological peers. Deceleration requests should be treated with caution, as evidence points to its negative impact on pupils’ self-esteem (HCC, 2017) and on long-term achievement (EEF, 2016).
This might be of an even greater concern than it would for secondary-age children because of the younger age of key stage 2 children. If, however, it is considered due to the English language barrier affecting performance at national exams, any potential negative impacts of deceleration need to be clearly communicated to parents so that they can make an informed decision. Parents might be advised that at the SAT stage, as opposed to GCSE examinations, stakes for learners are much lower, and therefore the self-esteem concerns might be of greater importance.
- Kamil Trzebiatowski is digital resource developer at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. Visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk and read his previous Headteacher Update articles via https://bit.ly/htu-trzebiatowski
Headteacher Update Summer Term Edition 2023
- This article first appeared in Headteacher Update's Summer Term Edition 2023. This edition was sent free of charge to every primary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via www.headteacher-update.com/digital-editions/
Further information & resources
- Bell Foundation: Guidance for parents: https://bit.ly/3AmRpN3
- EEF: Repeating a year, 2016: http://bit.ly/3K8IBRN
- Hampshire County Council (HCC): The placement of children outside their chronological year group, 2017: https://bit.ly/3ZDwX75
- HFL Education: Supporting EAL learners through SATs – what are the options? 2022: http://bit.ly/3GdBWo8
- Hutchinson: Educational outcomes of children with English as an additional language, Education Policy Institute & The Bell Foundation, 2018: https://bit.ly/3GgOT0u
- STA: Guidance: Key stage 2 tests: access arrangements, 2017: http://bit.ly/3m3AmhR
- STA: Pre-key stage 2: Pupils working below the national curriculum assessment standard, Teacher Assessment Framework, 2020: https://bit.ly/3K0EgQE
- STA: Statutory guidance: 2023 key stage 2: assessment and reporting arrangements (ARA), 2022: http://bit.ly/3zvSnZf
- Strand & Lindorff: English as an additional language: Proficiency in English, educational achievement, and rate of progression in English language learning, University of Oxford & The Bell Foundation, 2020: https://bit.ly/3ZDOXym
- Trzebiatowski: Supporting an effective transition for EAL pupils, Headteacher Update, 2019: https://bit.ly/43LJYPA
- Wokingham School Hub: New arrivals with English as an additional language: A toolkit for primary schools: http://bit.ly/3zuXYPD